Hair Care Tips: 10 Ingredients to Avoid in Shampoo

ingredients to avoid in shampoo

Hair care requires much more than simply washing it every now and then. However, a good hair wash with proper shampoo can make all the difference. A good shampoo can make your hair so much more manageable. But some shampoos don’t just make your hair smoother or shinier; they also contain ingredients that are harmful to your health in the long run.

There are a lot of things you need to understand before buying shampoo. Just looking at the label to see if a shampoo is good for your hair type or texture isn’t enough. You also have to read the fine print and see which ingredients the shampoo has.

But beware! The fine print can be really fine and convoluted. That’s why you need this list of ingredients to avoid in shampoo. Hopefully, you’ll have an easier time singling out those that can be harmful.


1. Alcohol

Before we jump into explaining why alcohol is at the top of the list of ingredients to avoid in shampoo, you need to understand one thing. The ingredients listed on the label of shampoo aren’t there in random order. Like movie stars, they are listed in the order of importance. Or, in this case, in the order of quantity.

So, the higher on the list an ingredient is, the more of it the shampoo contains. This is vital information if you’re weighing whether to buy a shampoo that has “a bit” of harmful substances.

Now that you understand that, let’s see why alcohol is on the “no-no” list.

Alcohol is an ingredient that will dry out your hair and scalp, which can cause irritation and itchiness. Those with an oily scalp might think a dried-out scalp is a good thing. However, that’s not necessarily the case.

You can have a dry and itchy scalp while still having greasy hair. Yeah, it’s not fair, but shampoos with excessive amounts of alcohol can do more harm than good.

Of course, not all types of alcohol are bad for you. If there’s an alcohol ingredient on the label that starts with an S or a C, you can rest easy. These alcohols will actually help your hair retain moisture. But alcohols that contain the word “prop” in their name are definitely something you want to stay away from.

2. Propylene Glycol

Speaking of ingredients that have “prop” in their name, you also have to pay attention to those that aren’t alcohol. For example, propylene glycol.

Propylene glycol is a solvent that many shampoo brands use to help other ingredients dissolve better. It also prevents the formation of bubbles that can build up when using cleansing products. That is why some shampoos with propylene glycol claim to be “no foam.”

However, this ingredient can cause hair loss if you use it for a long time or in large amounts. What’s more, even if it doesn’t lead to hair loss, it can still irritate your scalp. An irritated scalp leads to dry and brittle hair. So, even if you bought a super fancy shampoo that costs you a pretty penny, it can still damage your hair if it has propylene glycol.

The main trouble is that even when you know which ingredients to avoid in shampoo, it’s difficult to find brands that don’t use them.

If you want to avoid PG, check out how much propylene glycol your shampoo contains. If the amount is less than 1%, then you can still use the shampoo without the fear of any hair loss. Still, you should also look for alternative products without any propylene glycol at all.

3. Sodium Chloride

If sodium chloride sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s actually table salt. Now, you might be wondering what table salt is even doing in your shampoo. Well, many brands use it as a thickening agent.

However, it can really harm your hair and scalp. SC can lead to an itchy scalp. It strips your skin of essential oils that maintain the health of your hair and scalp. Once that’s done, the skin is left dry and irritated.

If you use a shampoo with sodium chloride, you also have hair dehydration and color removal to “look forward to”. In other words, a shampoo with SC will wash out your dye job quickly and leave you with brittle, dull hair.

4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

One of the most famous ingredients to avoid in shampoo is SLS. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a foaming agent that’s been used in everything from toothpaste to shampoo for years. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that there are no known health issues with SLS as an ingredient in cosmetics, but there is some concern about its potential to cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.

SLS can strip your hair of moisture. All sulfates, SLS included, are foaming agents, and they all have similar effects on your skin and hair. They’ll leave behind a “clean slate,” which means you’ll be left with no protective oils or moisture.

If you have sensitive skin or any skin disorders, you should definitely pay attention to the label. If the shampoo you’re using has SLS, you should reconsider using it. The same goes for anyone with frizzy and dry hair, as well as people with colored hair.

5. Parabens

Paraben has become a bit of a buzzword lately. However, it’s with good reason that you’re constantly hearing about it.

Parabens are common preservatives in many cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. However, they’ve also been linked to breast cancer and reproductive problems. They can also influence your hormonal balance.

Your skin absorbs parabens after prolonged use. That’s never a good thing. However, what’s worse is that they can be detected in breast tissue and blood even months after use.

In fact, parabens have been found in over 99% of breast tumors! And that’s not all. Parabens have also been found in many shampoos (including those marketed toward kids), so it’s important to read labels carefully when trying to avoid these ingredients.


6. Polyethylene Glycols

PEG is a synthetic substance that shampoo manufacturers use to improve the texture of their products. It’s what makes the shampoo glide out of the bottle and be silky smooth. In theory, it should also make your hair heavenly soft and silk-like, right?

However, that’s not the case. PEG is also what makes your scalp irritated and itchy. Generally speaking, all synthetic substances dry out your scalp. But PEG is one of the main ingredients to avoid in shampoo. It can sometimes contain known carcinogens. Sadly, there’s really no way for you to check whether PEG has carcinogens or not. Therefore, it’s best to avoid it completely.

7. Chemical Fragrances

If you adore the way your new shampoo smells, we might have some bad news for you. One of the main functions of shampoo is to clean your scalp and hair and leave behind a fresh, clean smell.

However, as the shampoo industry evolved, manufacturers found a way to add stronger fragrances to shampoo. Today, you have shampoos that smell in a mesmerizing way. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Fragrances are a mixture of chemicals, and they’re not required to be listed on the label. Fragrances can cause allergic reactions, irritate the skin and eyes, and be toxic and even carcinogenic!

They are often derived from synthetic petrochemicals (petroleum), which may contain toxins like benzene or toluene. These ingredients can affect your hormones. Now, the “can affect” are operating words here. The truth is that science still hasn’t fully determined all the nasty side-effects of these ingredients.

But, one thing is sure — they are harmful. Therefore, it’s probably best to put them on the list of ingredients to avoid in shampoo.

8. Synthetic Colors

Just like they found a way to make shampoos smell divine, manufacturers also found a way to make them in adorable colors. Having different shampoos in various colors is an effective marketing ploy that makes customers buy more products.

However, synthetic color can do so much more than just making the shampoo a specific color. Most of these colors contain petroleum, which causes irritation and product buildup, and coal-tar residue, which is toxic and can irritate your scalp.

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to figure out whether your shampoo has synthetic colors or not. Just look on the label for ingredients that are marked with a D&C or FD&C combined with a number. Those are synthetic colors. Remember, the higher up they are on the ingredients list and the more of them there are, the higher their concentration (and thus toxicity).

9. Triethanolamine

Triethanolamine is a chemical used in many personal care products, including shampoo. It’s another foaming agent. Apparently, you can never have enough of those in shampoo.

Triethanolamine is a known skin irritant and sensitizer, which means your skin may become red and irritated after contact with it. It’s also an eye irritant.

Furthermore, this substance can harm the keratin in your hair. You probably already know that keratin is the key ingredient of your hair. It helps maintain its structure, protects it, and promotes growth.

10. Formaldehyde

Lastly, one of the common-sense ingredients to avoid in shampoo is formaldehyde. Usually found in a funeral home, formaldehyde is a preservative that helps the shampoo last longer. It prolongs the shelf-life of a product which is why many brands use it in their shampoos.

Unfortunately, formaldehyde also causes scalp irritation and even burning. It’s an extremely strong substance that can lead to hair damage or even loss. However, most importantly, it’s essential to note that formaldehyde is also a carcinogen.

Again, it’s definitely not something you want to put on your head on a daily basis. Therefore, it’s probably best to steer clear of all shampoos that list it on their ingredients label.

Gretchen Walker
Gretchen is a homemaker by day and writer by night. She takes a keen interest in life as it unfolds around her and spends her free time observing people go about their everyday affairs.